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Judas Iscariot
by [?]

Believing, therefore, as Judas did, that Christ contemplated the establishment of a temporal kingdom–the restoration, in fact, of David’s throne; believing, also, that all the conditions towards the realization of such a scheme met and centred in the person of Christ, when viewed in relation to the circumstances of the times; what was it that, upon any solution intelligible to Judas, neutralized so grand a scene of promise? Simply and obviously, to a man with the views of Judas, it was the character of Christ himself, sublimely over-gifted for purposes of speculation, but, like Shakspeare’s great creation of Prince Hamlet, not commensurately endowed for the business of action and the sudden emergencies of life. Indecision and doubt (such was the interpretation of Judas) crept over the faculties of the Divine Man as often as he was summoned away from his own natural Sabbath of heavenly contemplation to the gross necessities of action. It became important, therefore, according to the views adopted by Judas, that his master should be precipitated into action by a force from without, and thrown into the centre of some popular movement, such as, once beginning to revolve, could not afterwards be suspended or checked. It is by no means improbable that this may have been the theory of Judas. Nor is it at all necessary to seek for the justification of such a theory, considered as a matter of prudential policy, in Jewish fanaticism. The Jews of thai day were distracted by internal schisms. Else, and with any benefit from national unity, the headlong rapture of Jewish zeal, when combined in vindication of their insulted temple and temple-worship, would have been equal to the effort of dislodging the Roman legionary force for the moment from the military possession of Palestine. After which, although the restoration of the Roman supremacy could not ultimately have been evaded, it is not at all certain that a compromise might not have been welcome at Rome, such as had, in fact, existed under Herod the Great and his father.[Footnote: It was a tradition which circulated at Rome down to the days of the Flavian family, that the indulgence conceded to Judea by the imperial policy from Augustus downwards, arose out of the following little diplomatic secret:–On the rise of the Parthian power, ambassadors had been sent to Antipater, the father of Herod, offering the Parthian alliance and support. At the same moment there happened to be at Jerusalem a Roman agent, having a mission from the Roman Government with exactly the same objects. The question was most solemnly debated, for it was obvious, that ultimately this question touched the salvation of the kindgom, since to accept an alliance with either empire, would be to insure the bitter hostility of the other. With that knowledge fully before his mind, Antipater made his definitive election for Rome. The case transpired at Rome–the debate, and the issue of the debate–and eventually proved worth a throne to the Herodian family; for the honor of Rome seemed to be concerned in supporting the man who, in this sort of judgment of Paris, had solemnly awarded the prize of superiority to the remoter potentate.] The radical power, in fact, would have been lodged in Rome; but with such external concessions to Jewish nationality as might have consulted the real interests of both parties. Administered under Jewish names, the land might have yielded a larger revenue than, as a refractory nest of insurgents, it ever did yield to the Roman exchequer; and, on the other hand, a ferocious bigotry, which was really sublime in its indomitable obstinacy, might have been humored without prejudice to the grandeur of the imperial claims. Even little Palmyra in later times was indulged to a greater extent without serious injury in any quarter, had it not been for the feminine arrogance that misinterpreted and abused that indulgence.

The miscalculation, in fact, of Judas Iscariot–supposing him really to have entertained the views ascribed to him–did not hinge at all upon political oversights, but upon a total spiritual blindness; in which blindness, however, he went no farther than at the time did probably most of his brethren. Upon them, quite as little as upon him, had as yet dawned the true grandeur of the Christian scheme. In this only he outran his brethren–that, sharing in their blindness, he greatly exceeded them in presumption. All alike had imputed to their Master views utterly irreconcilable with the grandeur of his new and heavenly religion. It was no religion at all which they as yet supposed to be the object of Christ’s teaching, but a simple preparation for a pitiably vulgar scheme of earthly aggrandizement. But, whilst the other apostles had simply failed to comprehend their master, Judas had presumptuously assumed that he comprehended the purposes of Christ more fully than Christ himself. His object was audacious in a high degree, but (according to the theory which I am explaining) for that very reason not treacherous at all. The more that he was liable to the reproach of audacity, the less can he be suspected of perfidy. He supposed himself executing the very innermost purposes of Christ, but with an energy which it was the characteristic infirmity of Christ to want. His hope was, that, when at length actually arrested by the Jewish authorities, Christ would no longer vacillate; he would be forced into giving the signal to the populace of Jerusalem, who would then have risen unanimously, for the double purpose of placing Christ at the head of an insurrectionary movement, and of throwing off the Roman yoke. As regards the worldly prospects of this scheme, it is by no means improbable that Iscariot was right. It seems, indeed, altogether impossible that he, who (as the treasurer of the apostolic fraternity) had in all likelihood the most of worldly wisdom, and was best acquainted with the temper of the times, could have made any gross blunder as to the wishes and secret designs of the populace in Jerusalem.[Footnote: Judas, not less than the other apostles, had doubtless been originally chosen, upon the apparent ground of superior simplicity and unworldliness, or else of superior zeal in testifying his obedience to the wishes of his Master. But the other eleven were probably exposed to no special temptation: Judas, as the purse-bearer, was. His official duty must have brought him every day into minute and circumstantial communication with an important order of men, viz., petty shop-keepers. In all countries alike, these men fulfil a great political function. Beyond all others, they are brought into the most extensive connection with the largest stratum by far in the composition of society. They receive, and with dreadful fidelity they give back, all jacobinical impulses. They know thoroughly in what channels, under any call arising for action, these impulses are at any time moving. They are always kept up au courant of the interior councils and ultimate objects of the most national, and, in one sense, the most powerful body in the whole community. Consciousness, which such men always have, of deep incorruptible fidelity to their mother-land, and to her interests, however ill understood, ennobles their politics, even when otherwise base. They are corrupters in a service that never can be utterly corrupt. They have therefore a power to win attention from virtuous men; and, being known to speak a representative language, they would easily, in a land so agitated and unreconciled, so wild, stormy, and ignorant as Judea, kindle in stirring minds the most worldly contagions as to principle and purpose: on the one hand, kept through these men in vital sympathy with the restless politics of the insurrectionist populace–on the other, hearing a sublime philosophy that rested for its key-note upon the advent of vast revolutions among men–what wonder that Judas should connect his daily experience by an imaginary synthesis?] This populace, however, not being backed by any strong section of the aristocracy, having no con
fidence again in any of the learned bodies connected with the great service of their national temple, and having no leaders, were apparently dejected, and without unity. The probability, meantime, is, that some popular demonstration would have been made on behalf of Christ, had he himself offered it any encouragement. But we, who know the incompatibility of any such encouragement with the primary purpose of Christ’s mission upon earth, know of necessity that Judas, and the populace on which he relied, must equally and simultaneously have found themselves undeceived for ever. In an instant of time one grand decisive word and gesture of Christ must have put an end peremptorily to all hopes of that kind. In that brief instant, enough was made known to Judas for final despair. Whether he had ever drunk profoundly enough from the cup of spiritual religion to understand the full meaning of Christ’s refusal; whether he still adhered to his worldly interpretation of Christ’s mission, and simply translated the refusal into a confession that all was lost, whilst in very fact all was on the brink of absolute and triumphant consummation, it is impossible for us, without documents or hints, to conjecture. Enough is apparent to show that, in reference to any hopes that could be consolatory for him, all was indeed lost. The kingdom of this world had melted away in a moment like a cloud; and it mattered little to him that a spiritual kingdom survived, and that intellectually he might suddenly become aware of it, if in his heart there were no spiritual organ by which he could appropriate the new and stunning revelation. Equally he might be swallowed up by despair in the case of retaining his old worldly delusions, and finding the ground of his old anticipations suddenly giving way below his feet, or again in the opposite case of suddenly correcting his own false constructions of Christ’s mission, and apprehending a far higher purpose; but which purpose, in the very moment of becoming intelligible, rose into a region far beyond his own frail fleshly sympathies. He might read more truly–far more truly; but what of that, if the new truth were nothing to him? The despondency of Judas might be of two different qualities, more or less selfish; indeed, I would go so far as to say, selfish or altogether unselfish. And it is with a view to this question, and under a persuasion of a wrong done to Judas by gross mistranslation disturbing the Greek text, that I entered at all upon this little memorandum. Else what I have hitherto been attempting to explain (excepting only the part relating to the hakim, which is entirely my own suggestion) belongs to German writers. The whole construction of Iscariot’s conduct, as arising, not out of perfidy, but out of his sincere belief that some quickening impulse was called for by a morbid feature in Christ’s temperament–all this I believe was originally due to the Germans; and it is an important correction, for it must always be important to recall within the fold of Christian forgiveness any one who has long been sequestered from human charity, and has tenanted a Pariah grave. In the greatest and most memorable of earthly tragedies, Judas is a prominent figure. So long as the earth revolves, he cannot be forgotten. If, therefore, there is a doubt affecting his case, he is entitled to the benefit of that doubt; and if he has suffered to any extent–if simply to the extent of losing a palliation, or the shadow of a palliation–by means of a false translation from the Greek, we ought not to revise or mitigate his sentence merely, but to dismiss him from the bar. The Germans make it a question–in what spirit Iscariot lived? My question is–how he died? If he were a traitor at last, in that case he was virtually a traitor always. If he perpetrated treason in the last hours of his connection, with Christ, and even a mercenary treason, then he must have been dallying with the purpose of treason during all the hours of his apostleship. If, in reality, when selling his master for money, he meant to betray him, and regarded the money as the commensurate motive for betraying him, then his case will assume a very different aspect from that impressed upon it by the German construction of the circumstances.